What do you do in the “in-between” places?
In many respects this Sunday, (the first Sunday of Christmas,) always feels like an “in-between” space for me.
Christmas Eve is past.
The presents have all been opened.
A ton of energy has been expended on the preparation, the music, the worship, and the family gathering.
Prodigious amounts of foods have been consumed.
The celebrations are largely past.
But it is still the old year, the new has not yet dawned.
We await these last few days for the countdown to midnight, the turning of the age and the turning of the calendar page.
Then we will eat the Black-eyed peas for good luck, make our resolutions and champagne toasts in hopeful anticipation for a fresh start and a better year.
We mark time a bit in these days after Christmas and before the New Year.
This is an “in-between time.
Once you ponder that, your mind begins to think of all the other places where we have “in-between” times in our life.
There is the time between getting to the doctor’s office and actually seeing the doctor.
There is the half time in the ball game, the seventh inning stretch in baseball, the intermission for plays and music concerts.
We have in-between times in our travels (when we can do that again) lay-overs and times in the que for security, and the space between when the wait staff takes our order and when the food is actually served.
We have grown accustomed to filling our “in-between” times with devices and gadgets. The phone comes out, the I-pad opens up, we peruse the news, play a game, or send a message.
Our In-between times have become filled with distractions!
Perhaps that is what preoccupied my thoughts a I read the Gospel lesson this year.
Anna and Simeon seem to also occupy an “in-between time.” They hold the space between the birth of Jesus and the actions of the grown Jesus.
They occupy the space of hopes for what will be, what will be done, and the space where love comes, when we learn what Jesus will do and be to this world.
Right at this moment we have only the revelation of the Angels to Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds to go on.
We have some general hopes of what will be, some expectations of this child someday, but right now Jesus is but a baby eight days old, and what can you see in that?
You can see love.
That is what Simeon and Anna can see.
They are in the Temple “looking forward to the consolation of Israel” we are told, but I can think of no other verses in the bible where the Holy Spirit is so pervasive!
The Holy Spirit “rests” on Simeon.
The Holy Spirit “reveals” to Simeon that he will not see death before seeing God’s saving activity, seeing the Messiah.
The Spirit guides Simeon to be in the Temple at this particular time, when Mary and Joseph are coming for the purification rites for Mary’s sake, and like all young parents they simply have the baby in tow this day.
The Spirit, it appears, is everywhere in the “in-between” time, and incredibly active, and Luke wants us to see and to know that.
The Spirit gives Simeon something to say to this moment, a thanksgiving uttered for an in-between time, with no expectation of seeing any of this come to fruition!
It is enough to simply hold the babe in his arms and pronounce what will be. “This child shall be for the falling and rising of many in Israel.”
It is enough to see the baby who will someday meet opposition, and expose the inner thoughts of many and yes, be a source of heart ache, a source of pain for Mary, as if a sword were piercing her own soul.
It is enough for old Anna to just catch sight of the child. It is enough to have the Spirit also seem to enter her and give her utterance to praise God and to speak of the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Israel.
What do you do in the “in-between time?”
For Simeon and Anna, it is not a time to be filled with distractions!
It is rather a time to pay particular attention to what the Holy Spirit is doing.
You look for the Holy Spirit to move in the “in-between time!”
You listen to what others can see when you cannot see it yourself.
You listen to what the Holy Spirit is revealing to those who would normally be going about their daily business and their normal routine.
You praise God for this “in-between” time, which is a time of when the Holy Spirit seems particularly active.
The Holy Spirit is not so much doing things directly, as it is preparing and filling in the gaps between hopes for the child and the love that is apparent.
This is when the Spirit gets busy, in the in-between times.
This is when unlikely witnesses come forth, and the people who are usually in the background. These characters now come to the fore to point out what would otherwise be overlooked.
It’s not time yet, but it’s close, so close I can now rest in peace, consider the redemption of Israel a done deal!
It’s not time yet, but it’s close, so close that we can give praise to God for the child and speak about hopes for a better future openly.
This is what you do with the in-between moment, the time between hoping and watching love enter the world.
I am struck by that this year, because so much of this year has felt like an “in-between time.”
We’re not traveling or going to ball games. We’re not even going out to eat.
We are in the space between the outbreak of the pandemic and the time when the vaccine allows us to return to more normal patterns of life.
We are in the “in-between” time. Somewhere between our hopes for a better world and the kind of love that it will take to get us there.
Some are indeed filing this time with distractions.
They carry on as if the days were normal.
Others hunker down and wait the difficulty out, retract into themselves to protect themselves.
Some find new distractions to take their mind off what they can no longer do, and where they cannot yet go.
But if the in-between time is the time that the Holy Spirit chooses to move, then maybe instead of falling into the pattern of distraction we should take a cue from Anna and Simeon and look more intently at the sights we have viewed a thousand times before, scanning to see if God is doing something new!
This may be the time for us when the Holy Spirit is resting on us, guiding us, and revealing things to us.
This may be the time when we need to put down our phones and look around at what the Spirit is doing in our midst.
This may be the time for us to listen to old Simeon’s words which are not all glowing and upbeat.
People will stumble and fall over Jesus.
People will also rise to the occasion. They will be inspired and empowered to do more than they thought they were capable of doing.
There is light shining, but that does not mean that Jesus and the disciples will not know dark days, darkness over the land, — but the light shines and the darkness does not overcome it.
There is hope!
There is love coming!
That is a promise.
Can we see with the eyes of old Simeon, God at work in unexpected ways through unexpected people, ordinary people who are just doing what needs to be done?
Can we give thanks for those who simply attend to “eighth day” formalities (there are so many, too many to list or name, the people who are just doing what needs to be done!)
In their attention to doing such work, can we dare to see the Holy Spirit at work?
This may be a time for us to listen to old Anna and find a way to sing praises for them even when it is tough to sing! No eighty-something woman that I know of has a pristine and melodic voice, it is usually cracked and cackled, warbly and imprecise, but Anna sings praises nonetheless for what she sees, and for the hope of a better future!
Can we sing praises to God for the ordinary, and with such words extol the child?
Can we see with Anna’s eyes, the need to give thanks and praise to God even in the midst of our own decline and pain?
Can we raise our voices and sing out a song in cackled and cracking voices for the sheer joy of doing so?
This is where we are, in the gap between hope for the vaccine and love for our neighbor.
This is where the Holy Spirit gets busy.
This is when the Spirit rests on us, guides us, and gives us something to say to world that is otherwise too scared and distracted to see that God is in our midst.